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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

When I was a young bride, and I lived far from home, I called my mom several times to get recipes from her. She was very helpful and made sure that I had most of my favorite recipes typed on cards before I left home. But I soon realized there were a few I'd forgotten.

I called Mom to get her recipes for tuna casserole and potato salad, but she told me she didn't have any because she just threw things together. She tried giving me the ingredients and directions over the phone, but the finished product just didn't taste like hers.

Now that I've been cooking for many years, I understand that you don't always have to follow a recipe. When making a few classics such as chili and banana bread, I always reach for my Betty Crocker cookbook. However, I've found that I can make foods the way I like them by modifying the recipe. For instance, when I make chili, I use pinto beans instead of kidney beans, and I add more spices and an extra can of tomato sauce that the recipe doesn't call for. With a few small alterations, you can turn a cookbook recipe into your own.

I have a few favorite recipes that I follow to the letter, but I've found that I often fall back on the recipes in my memory. Often, when I'm rushed, and I don't have the time to try a new recipe, I fall back on a tried-and-true, such as French bread pizza, goulash or even Mom's tuna casserole. It seems that the old favorites never fail to make my family happy.

It's funny how even the most simple of our favorite recipes can have a special place in our loved ones' hearts. My husband claims that I make the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the world, and I know that's one thing I can make that will always bring a smile.

Kate Marchbanks

Together With God

The best recipe I ever had was called a Recipe for Life. It goes: Treat your family like company and your company like family. It is a recipe that I subscribe to and practice whenever possible. The truth behind it could be described as common sense toward gracious entertaining, or the best way to get through a family visit. However you see it, the formula has proven to be rewarding.

I think it all comes down to being considerate of the feelings and needs of others. Make sure your family knows how important they are to you and how much you love them. Treating your friends like family instead of guests in your home will honor them with the courtesy reserved only for members of your inner circle.

Father, thank You for our loved ones, our friends, and the opportunities You provide for us to express our devotion to both. May we always seek ways to improve our relationships. Help us remember that You are always with us and guiding us through the process. Amen.

 - D. Susan Rutz

Pie had different taste

Our family loved lemon pie, so I always baked two. One day, my son came into the house after finishing his chores.

He said, 'That pie sure looks good.'

I told him to sit down, and I cut a slice for him. He ate it, and he sat quietly.

I said, 'How's the pie?'

He answered, 'Mom, if I were you, I wouldn't feed this to the cat, or she might turn into a sourpuss.'

I had forgotten the sugar!


Burgers were a hit

'Grandpa, please make some Army burgers,' my sons would ask their grandfather when they went to visit.

He was usually willing to fill their request. He'd add Worcestershire sauce, some minced onion, garlic and onion salt to the hamburgers before he grilled them. An expert chef he wasn't, but he got rave reviews every time he made hamburgers for the boys.

Dad had only two recipes he was known for. They both had military names: Army burgers and Navy chili. However, anything to do with the military was appealing to the boys when they were small.


Learned to make Grandma's dish

I have a certain recipe that brings a good memory of my late mother-in-law. A favorite dish of my husband's family later became a favorite recipe of our children and mine.

My mother-in-law would make sweet, cooked rice for special occasions. She learned that I loved it, and whenever I was sick, she would bring some out to me.

I asked her for directions to make the sweet rice, and she wrote them down, step by step. It takes an hour of stirring over the stove, and in the directions she wrote, 'Don't answer the phone or it will scorch.'

As the years rolled by, and my oldest daughter learned to make rice, we had a contest to see whose came closest to Grandma's. I didn't realize that my daughter cooked hers in the microwave, so it didn't take an hour, and she didn't have to stir it all the time.

To my surprise, I couldn't tell them apart. So Grandma's sweet rice is still the favorite dish at each special meal with our family. I put the recipe in my favorite cookbook, plus I ironed it on a dishcloth for each of my children, along with other favorite recipes.


Special recipes are stored close to her heart

My special recipes are kept with all my others, in the wooden recipe box I've had for a long time. However, those special recipes are also in my heart because they mean something to me.

When I was a child, my  Italian grandmother always made pizzelle for special occasions. She'd stand by the stove for hours, turning the hot pizzelle iron from side to side.

These cookies were made one at a time until Grandma had filled a bushel. What love she put into making them. To this day, they are my favorite treats, and I never eat one without thinking of Grandma.

Though I've only made German Fried Cakes rarely, I treasure the recipe my neighbor and dearest friend, Rita, gave me more than 30 years ago. I have the original recipe card she wrote it on, and just coming across that card occasionally stirs my heart.

Rita made German Fried Cakes every year on Fat Tuesday. My boys and I would wait eagerly for Rita's husband to deliver them. When we opened the large bag, the wonderful aroma permeated the air. We enjoyed them until our stomachs could hold no more.

My mother makes the best chicken soup ever, and she's always made it without a recipe. She used to say the recipe was in her head. Mom showed me, step by step, and I wrote everything down. But when I make it, it just doesn't taste the same as hers. I guess it needs 'Mama's touch.'

My favorite memory of Mom's soup is the way her kitchen smelled when she was making it. My second favorite memory is the way I got to sample a cupful of broth.

Last, but not least, I have two recipes that my boys brought home from grammar school many years ago, Swiss Treats and Peanut Butter Balls. We made these goodies many times together, and I'm passing on these recipes to my grandchildren. I hope they and their parents have as much fun making them as my boys and I did.

New York

Watermelon time

Summertime is the perfect time to enjoy watermelon. Whether it's eating them, growing them or cooking with them, many people have fond watermelon memories.

Do you have a special watermelon memory? Have you ever grown a large one for fun or for a contest? Did you enjoy them more as a child or as an adult? Tell us your watermelon stories.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Fresh mushrooms bring home
flavors of Thai cooking

If you've eaten in a Thai restaurant, chances are you've sampled pad Thai. The appealing noodle, seafood and vegetable dish is the perfect introduction to this Southeast Asian country's food. But you don't have to go out to sample this delicious type of ethnic food.

One advantage of making Thai food at home is the opportunity to use generous quantities of fresh produce such as white and shiitake mushrooms. With their delicate, but deeply satisfying flavor, fresh mushrooms are a perfect addition to these dishes. These do-at-home recipes capture the flavors of Thailand, using ingredients you can buy at the local supermarket.

A mixture of Asian-inspired ingredients blend to give mushrooms an irresistible flavor.

Thai Style Marinated Mushrooms

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons creamy-style peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Oriental sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced green onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced lemon grass OR grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound (about 5 cups) medium-size fresh white mushrooms, quartered

In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, orange juice, peanut butter, honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, green onion, garlic, ginger, lemon grass and red pepper; cook over low heat, stirring constantly until hot, about 4 minutes.

Place mushrooms in a large bowl; pour peanut butter mixture over all; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for about 3 hours to blend flavors. Drain and serve on a bed of spinach or lettuce leaves garnished with diagonally sliced green onions and finely diced red pepper. Yields 4 servings.

These healthy wraps are easy to assemble.

Asian Chicken and Mushroom Wraps

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut in strips
1 pound fresh white mushrooms, sliced
1 package (16 oz.) frozen stir-fry vegetables
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
6 (8-inch) flour tortillas

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add half the chicken; cook and stir until browned on both sides, about 5 to 6 minutes; remove to a plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining chicken; remove to plate.

Heat remaining oil in skillet; add mushrooms; cook and stir until tender and all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are barely cooked, about 2 minutes. Stir in hoisin sauce and reserved chicken; heat for 1 minute.

Spoon an equal amount of chicken and mushroom mixture on 1 side of each tortilla; roll to enclose filling. Cut rolled tortillas diagonally in halves; serve immediately. Yields 6 servings.

This restaurant-style soup is simple to make.

Asian Noodle Soup

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 cup angel hair pasta, broken into pieces
3/4 cup cooked, shredded chicken OR cubed tofu
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrot
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion, optional
Thinly slice shiitake caps (makes about 2 1/2 cups).

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, combine chicken broth with water, soy sauce, garlic and ginger; bring to a simmer. Add mushrooms, pasta, chicken and carrot; simmer until mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in sesame oil and green onions. Yields 4 servings.

This authentic-tasting dish has an enticing aroma.

Pad Thai with Fresh Mushrooms and Shrimp

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
1/3 cup water
1 package (8 oz.) 1/4-inch-wide rice noodles OR fettuccine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
12 ounces fresh white mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 pound shelled and deveined shrimp
8 ounces fresh OR canned bean sprouts, drained (about 2 cups)
6 scallions, cut in 1-inch pieces (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup roughly chopped OR whole salted peanuts

In a large bowl, whisk soy sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, pepper sauce and water.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain; add to soy sauce mixture; toss gently.

In a very large skillet or 2 medium-size skillets, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat; add mushrooms and garlic. Cook and stir until the mushroom liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add to seasoned noodles.

Heat remaining oil in same skillet; add shrimp. Cook and stir until cooked through, about 2 minutes; stir in bean sprouts and scallions. Add mushroom-noodle mixture to skillet; taste and add more soy sauce if needed. Cook and stir just until hot, 30 to 45 seconds. Sprinkle with peanuts. Yields 4 servings.